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Asia’s Best Female Chef 2023 Johanne Siy: ‘Sustainability is something I take very seriously’

By SCOTT GARCEAU, The Philippine STAR Published May 11, 2023 5:00 am

Chef Johanne Siy—recently named Asia’s Best Female Chef of 2023 by Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants, an honor bagged by only one other Filipino chef, Gaita Forés—is leaning over a table of bright-red Carabinero prawns, plating each with an eye towards beauty, but also a respect and care for each sprig, each molecule held by her tweezers.

Born in Dagupan, she’s used to using every part of the ingredient in her recipes. So sustainability is a theme tonight. Chef Siy is wrapping up a two-day “Signature Experience” chef event held by Arthaland in Manila before flying back to her home base, Lolla restaurant, in Singapore.

The setting here is important. We’re at the 6th floor of Arthaland Century Pacific Tower, where a new Eluria luxury model unit is being presented, one that promises a LEED-friendly “decarbonized” living environment.

Chef Johanne Siy, Asia’s Best Female Chef of 2023, walks us through her “sustainable” menu inside Arthaland’s Eluria gourmet kitchen.

“When they approached me for this project, I was very excited because of their stance on sustainability,” she says. “It's something we take very seriously at the restaurant. It's part and parcel of everything we do; we’re using byproducts, trying to find a way to incorporate things that we don't normally use anymore, like carrot tops or potato peels into the dishes.”

Plating the seared wagyu dish for our very special menu

The Carabinero is a great example. As the penultimate dish, our table of 14 guests is blown away by the huge Spanish prawn, lightly grilled, served with a sauce made from the prawn heads (sustainability!), finished with spring onion oil, and served with a pillowy potato bread that is essential for dipping into the shell casing to get every morsel, and—instead of the jalapeño relish used at Lolla—a local sambal paste that adds a piquant kick to the dish.

The Carabinero: The deep-red Spanish prawn is lightly grilled, served with a sauce made from the prawn heads and a pillowy potato bread— essential for dipping into the shell casing to get every morsel.

After using her business management degree at Procter & Gamble, Siy shifted gears, training at The Culinary Institute of America in NYC; there, she also worked under chef Eric Ripert at Le Bernardin and chef Daniel Boulud at Café Boulud; she staged at Faviken in Sweden, Noma in Denmark, and had a four-year stint at Chef André in Singapore before opening Lolla, a casual Mediterranean-inspired restaurant, in 2012.

Finding local ingredients is difficult in Singapore; everything can be ordered, but it’s all imported—so that’s what she packed up with her to craft this two-night dinner event.

Chutoro tartare tart bursts with fresh, expressive flavor.

Our menu unfolded with chutoro tartare tarts, something served at Lolla: “It’s actually painted with squid ink, at the bottom is a bit of oyster aioli, chutoro tartare and sugar snap peas; instead of throwing out the shells, we use the juice and make a refreshing drink mixed with lime, apple juice and elderflower.” The tiny tart releases fresh, expressive flavors, and the green “shot” adds a bit of tang.

Next we feasted on “sustainable” caviar, a dish that hints at Siy’s conceptual menu training at places like Noma: “Caviar has become ubiquitous with tasting menus, but we’ve lost context: it’s a luxury but we forget there’s a fish that is 10 to 16 years old that has to be slaughtered to get the caviar. We wanted to bring that whole perspective into this dish.”

The Kaluga-hybrid caviar is piled on a cold serving of pumpkin, egg yolk sauce and crème fraiche.

The Kaluga-hybrid caviar is piled on a cold serving of pumpkin, egg yolk sauce and crab and crème fraiche; next to it is a fried fish ball, you could say, with the leftover smoked sturgeon inside, as well as pickled wild garlic from France.

Abalone with seaweed paste served on a skewer with king oyster mushroom, paired with a consommé made from eight different mushrooms

Next we sample the abalone with seaweed paste, served on a skewer, with a mushroom broth on the side—a journey through the land of umami. “It’s abalone interspersed with king oyster mushroom, then a broth made from eight different types of mushrooms, and clarified twice. So it’s basically a mushroom consommé.” 

All these dishes were served inside a model unit for Eluria, which offers ample modern space and luxuries (artworks by National Artist Joya and others are displayed throughout, and a pair of white-gloved personal “butlers” show off the dumbwaiter which delivers packages straight to your unit from the lobby).

Crab relleno: Its shell stuffed with a delicious smoked paprika foam, kaffir lime oil, kaffir leaves and mustard flowers; inside, an aligue river crab tomalley paste, pearl couscous, smoky burnt cabbage and delicious plump chunks of meat.

We move back to the main dining table for the crab relleno, another hit recreated from Lolla. Siy calls it “an ode to home,” with its shell holding a delicious smoked paprika foam, kaffir lime oil, kaffir leaves and mustard flowers; dig deep and enjoy the aligue river crab tomalley paste, the pearl couscous, the smoky burnt cabbage—and, of course, the plump, perfectly cooked crab chunks amid a fizzy bath of aromatic, citrusy flavors. Few crab dishes I’ve had can match this.

Next came the Carabinero, followed by a surprise dish: Japanese wagyu slices, lightly seared at high temps with just a touch of salt. It’s a wonderful encounter with the other side of Lolla’s menu, which chef Siy switches up based on the best of the season. “We have the rest of the year to enjoy meats, so I was excited to shift the menu to all-seafood.”

For dessert, a trio of wild strawberries—mara de bois from France, frais de bois from Malaga, and berries from Baguio—is served over a delicious milk parfait drizzled with hazelnut oil.

We ended the night with a trio of wild strawberries: mara de bois from France, frais de bois from Malaga, Spain and—to keep things somewhat local—Baguio strawberries, all served over a delicious milk parfait drizzled with hazelnut oil. Chef Siy recalls foraging for these small, wild strawberries while working in Sweden. (We silently thank her suitcase for being spacious enough to accommodate our appetites for this delicious meal.)

Chef Siy is the only other Filipino to bag the Asia’s Best Female Chef award, so I wondered if there’s a certain Filipino trait that makes their cooking stand out. Perhaps it’s resourcefulness (maabilidad) that’s key: nothing should go to waste.

“I believe sustainability is deeply rooted in respect for the ingredients—a profound appreciation of the produce and all the artisans and craftsmen whose passion and industry enabled these ingredients,” she says. “I’ve worked in farms before and I know how back-breaking it can be. This perspective has taught me to value the ingredients I work with. I’m going to find a way to make something delicious out of every part of it. It is harder than just throwing things out and definitely entails more creativity. But isn’t that challenge part of what makes cooking so rewarding?

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Arthaland’s Eluria offers 37 limited-edition units ranging from 278 to 578 sqms in Legaspi Village, Makati. Breaking ground last November, development is to be completed second quarter 2026.